Angels cherish competition for starting 5

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Even without making a splashy move this winter after signing Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols the last two offseasons, the Los Angels think they’ve improved the makeup of their club with several smaller signings.

”Anytime there is competition for spots, it’s better for the team and it’s tougher on some individuals,” Angels manager Scioscia said. ”That’s never changed in this game. I think the competition in this camp is going to be at a level that we haven’t seen in a number of years and that’s a good thing. We’ll see how things pan out.”

The Angels finished 78-84 last year and are looking to return to the playoffs after four years without an appearance.

One area in need of improvement is in the starting staff that is anchored by Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. When pitchers and catchers reported Friday, Joe Blanton, Garrett Richards and Mark Mulder, who last pitched in the majors in 2008, occupied the remaining three lockers along the north wall usually reserved for the five-man rotation.

The lockers to the east are reserved for pitchers who are vying for a spot on the big league club, and Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, two starting-pitching hopefuls acquired in a three-way deal that sent slugger Mark Trumbo to Arizona, dressed on that side.

”Where your pitching staff ends up from day one of spring training to day one of the regular season sometimes has a different bite to it,” Scioscia said.

”This is where you want to be once you come to camp,” Richards said. ”This is something you work very hard for.”

Richards was 7-8 and a 4.16 ERA last year, numbers that can hardly be considered a breakthrough, but he’s at least in the hunt for one of the available sports.

”Considering that I went back and forth (in and out of the rotation) last year (47 games, 17 starts), I thought I made major strides,” Richards said. ”I learned a lot last year. I made adjustments in developing my craft.”

The 36-year-old Mulder 103-60 career in a career that that was derailed by two shoulder operations. He feels he can make the Angels with a new delivery – he’s is in a similar position reliever Jason Isringhausen was at this time last year.

”I’ve worked hard and what I’m doing right now is good,” Mulder said. ”I know it’s working and I’m excited for the opportunity.”

Santiago and Skaggs are both left-handers and the Angels must have thought highly of the pair when they executed the risky deal that sent Trumbo to Arizona after he hit a team-high 34 homers with 100 RBI last year.

”I want to start,” said Santiago, 4-9 with a 3.56 ERA with the Chicago White Sox, who lost 99 games last season.

Santiago has been versatile, first breaking out of training camp as the White Sox’s ”surprise” closer at the start of 2012.

Santiago eventually lost the closer’s role after four saves and made four starts in 2012. He made 23 starts with Chicago in 2013 in 34 games.

Skaggs, 2-3 with a 5.12 ERA in seven starts with Arizona in 2013, returned to the Angels where he began his career and later was dealt to Arizona in a 2010 deal that brought Dan Haren to Los Angeles.

”I’m just going back to throwing strikes and keeping the ball down,” Skaggs said. ”Last year was a tough year, disappointing. It’s not the numbers you want to put up.”

Nobody could be as disappointed as Blanton, who went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA in 2013.

”Joe, obviously, is a pitcher who needs to make some adjustments,” Scioscia said. ”He had just a terrible season last year. … He’s shown the past couple of years that when he’s throwing the ball to his capabilities that there’s no doubt that he can get major league hitters out.”

NOTES: Angels owner Arte Moreno said talks with star outfielder Mike Trout are on but wouldn’t give any details of the discussions. He added that he think Trout likes playing for the Angels. … Moreno also said he would allow the team to go over MLB’s $189 luxury-tax threshold ”if the right player become available in a trade.”